About the International Summer School of Dresden, piratenpad.de and (online) revolutions!

By Shaimaa El Naggar

This year I was invited to participate in the International Summer School held in Dresden on ‘the impact of digitization on society’. With scholars from various disciplines, the school has many themes including social networks and political communication, data mining, and the use of digitization in education.

There are many things one can talk about here; in this blog post, I will focus on one online platform we used in lectures and workshops in Dresden, i.e.https://www.piratenpad.de/

As an online platform, piratenpad, https://www.piratenpad.de/ allows you to put down your notes online, in a similar way to writing your notes on a page. There are some differences, however: first, what you write is highlighted in a particular colour, which makes you distinguish between what you have written and what others have. Second, you can choose to be anonymous or not, writing freely your thoughts, comments, after-thoughts, and share links with other participants attending the event. For instance, in the lecture, Nishand Shah was critical of the assumption that media has become a centre of social reality (also see Kellner 2003).  One of us (attending the event) shared a link to Guy DeBord’s theory of the society of the spectacle:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_the_Spectacle. While in the ‘usual’ circumstances, you will wait till the end of the lecture and explore references later on, you can now explore them on the spot and share your findings with others, accelerating the process of the acquisition of knowledge.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-10-01 um 21.28.08

Fig 1. Links and comments posted on the pirate(n) pad.

One other thing I like (d) about ‘piratepad’ is that it allows you to interact with other users; for instance, you can add to the notes others have written down or ask them questions; for instance, see the above picture.

One question, however, that emerges here is: if piratenpad.de can go beyond being an online platform for noting down information towards creating an online community; one characterized by interactivity and sustained membership over time (see Jones 1997)?

It is perhaps important to say here that the question of what features can designate an online community has been given attention in studies on computer-mediated communication (e.g. Jones 1997; Baym 2003 and Herring 2004; Androutsopoulos 2006); scholars, however, seem to differ as to what characteristics constitute online communities. Herring (2004:346), for instance, argues that ‘not all online groups constitute virtual communities’; and that a virtual community is operationalized on dimensions, including the emergence of roles, rituals and hierarchies; self-awareness of the group as an entity that is distinct from other groups; evidence of shared history, culture and value; solidarity and support as manifest in humor and politeness.

Looking into the pads we have produced, they have some features that can characterize an ‘online community’, for instance, the use of humor yet –if one sticks to Herrings’ definition stated above- they lack evidence of shared history, culture and value. In fact, I argue here that much attention has been given to exploring online communities (e.g. Jones 1997; Baym 2003 and Herring 2004) and what seems to have been taken for granted is one basic characteristic feature of online platforms, i.e. sharing information. For instance, it is only when FB helped mobilize masses in Tunisia and Egypt that the ‘revolutionary’ aspect of sharing information seems to have been given scholarly and media attention.

Moving from politics to education, I would argue that there is still more room for making more use of online platforms such as piratenpad.de; if only one may (can) make a revolution!


Androutsopoulos, J. (2006) ‘Introduction: Sociolinguistics and computer-  mediated  communication’. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10, 4, 419–438.

Baym, N. K. (2003) ‘Communication in online communities’. In K. Christiansen          and  David          Levinson (eds.) Encyclopedia of Community (Volume 3).          Thousand Oaks, California: Sage. pp. 1015–1017.

Herring, S. C. (2004). ‘Computer-mediated discourse analysis: An approach to

researching online communities’. In Sasha A. Barab, Rob Kling and         James H. Gray (eds.) Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of        Learning. Cambridge, U.K. and New York: Cambridge University Press.     pp. 338–376.

Jones, Q. (1997). ‘Virtual communities, virtual settlements and cyber-      archaeology’. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 3(3),          n.pag.   

Kellner, D. (2003) Media Spectacle London and New York: Routledge